Republicans for Obama
The Top Story by Chris Graham
“Believe it or not, I am supporting Obama,” the e-mail began. And honestly, I didn’t believe it, not at first. Surely Brett Hayes was pulling my chain. We’ve known each other for years, and got to know each other a lot better during my brief city-council campaign in Waynesboro earlier this year. The discussions were always quite productive, but in the end it was clear that Brett was the fiscal-conservative Republican among the two of us, I was the fiscal-conservative Democrat, and while we could agree on a great many of the issues of the day, there were plenty on which we would have to agree to disagree.
In that context, then, there was no way that I ever thought we’d be able to have a conversation about our choice of presidential candidates that would have us agreeing that Barack Obama is the man best suited to lead the country for the next four years.
“I don’t have any ill will toward John McCain, although I’m disappointed that he’s running a negative campaign,” said Hayes, a Greater Augusta-area business leader and U.S. Marines veteran and local Republican for Obama. “I think John McCain is a fantastic leader. He and Barack Obama have the same goal in mind – peace and prosperity for the United States. I just like Barack Obama’s path to get there better than John McCain’s,” Hayes said, citing issues including energy, the economy and foreign policy on which he feels that Obama is better suited to lead than McCain.
The Republicans for Obama movement has been catching steam since the rollout last week of a group appropriately named Republicans for Obama led by Rita Hauser, a former member of the Bush administration’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, former Iowa GOP congressman Jim Leach and former Rhode Island Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee. “As I looked at the candidates in order to know who to vote for, certainly my kind of conservatism was reflected in Sen. Obama,” Chafee said on a conference call organized by the Obama campaign to announce the formation of the group. “Those points are that we’re fiscally conservative, we care about revenues matching expenditures, we also care about the environment. I think it’s a traditional conservative value to care about clean air and clean water. Sen. Obama is terrific on that issue. Personal liberties, such as the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, a woman’s reproductive freedom, Sen. Obama is strong on that. I consider that traditional conservatism – personal liberties. Fear of foreign entanglements – Sen. Obama was a leader in speaking out against the war in Iraq, and I consider that traditional conservatism,” Chafee said.
“Barack Obama’s platform has been a call for change, but the change that he is so gracefully articulating is more renewal than departure. And by this I mean while a break with the ideological policies of the moment, it is rooted in very old American values that are as much a part of the Republican as the Democratic tradition,” Leach said on that same conference call. “There is an emphasis on individual rights, fairness and balance at home, and progressive internationalism. And above anything else, I’m convinced that the national interest requires a new approach to our interactions with the world, including a recognition that the long-term occupation of Iraq is likely to be dangerously destabilizing, and that it’s preferable to speak with rather than shun potential adversaries,” Leach said.
“When it became clear that the nominees would be McCain and Obama, many Republicans all around the country started calling one another to say, Who will we be for, what are we going to do in this election? And a very large number of us feel deeply that John McCain, good man that he is, will be a continuation of Bush, and we will have, particularly in the foreign-policy field, but also in terms of fiscal integrity, a Bush third term, and that is something that we are strongly opposed to. It’s difficult to walk away from your party’s nominee, but you have to put your country first,” Hauser said on the call.
Hayes, who has taken his support for Obama to the streets, canvassing his Augusta County neighborhood for the Obama campaign, with plans to do more door-to-door work on behalf of the Obama effort this fall, said something similar to me in a conversation last week. “If I’m voting what it’s going to cost me in taxes, I’ve already done that math, and it’s going to cost me a little more under Obama’s plan. But it shouldn’t be about what I pay in taxes. It should be about the big picture,” said Hayes, who calculates that the tax impact on individuals making in the area of $500,000 a year will be $9,000 if Obama is successful in getting the Bush tax cuts sunsetted. “But think about the benefits that those people get. Their benefit from a stronger U.S. dollar, lower energy costs, energy independence, is going to be phenomenal. Why wouldn’t you make that choice?” Hayes said.
“Both sets of Bushes and Reagan all talked about government as being the problem, make government smaller, control the spending – and what did all of them do? They increased spending,” Hayes said. “As percentage of GDP, spending is highest, at 25 percent, under Reagan, and right now we’re at 24 percent GDP with Bush’s 2009 budget that will be passed in October. We’re spending more than we should. Government has gotten too big. Where does that hurt is? It hurts us in the value of the dollar. When the dollar is weak, oil, which is denominated in dollars, is more expensive to Americans. Our goods, yes, are cheaper overseas, but everybody else’s products, which is far more to us, because we buy so much from overseas, is far more expensive,” Hayes said.
John Martin, who launched the first Republicans for Obama website in December 2006, and like Hayes a military veteran, is there with Hayes on the need for a fresh approach to fiscal policy in Washington. “I’m not going to tell you that Barack Obama is as conservative as I am. He’s definitely not. But our Republican Party has not held to its ideals. They talk about fiscal responsibility, but they obviously have not lived up to that. So I don’t think our own Republican Party has been so conservative,” Martin said. “We’re at a time when we need to stop fighting about conservative solutions to our problems or liberal solutions to our problems and just come up with some good compromise solutions to the problems that we face.”
Martin’s Republicans for Obama site has more than 2,000 registered members, which suggests that there is something to the idea that Obama could pull some support away from McCain among the base. The phenomenon, though, might be more effectively named “Conservatives for Obama” given polling data that show Obama getting only 9 percent of the vote of self-identified Republicans, but 22 percent of the vote of self-ID’d conservatives.
(In that same polling, done by IBD/TIPP, McCain’s numbers among self-identified Democrats and liberals was identical – at 7 percent.)
“I voted for McCain in the 2000 primaries because he was more my type of Republican at the time. He was willing to buck the party when necessary, and he was willing to put what’s best for the country above everything else. But obviously he’s trying to have it both ways. He tried to move to the right once he decided that he’d be running for president, but the right isn’t buying it. They still don’t forgive him for some of his past perceived indiscretions,” Martin said.
“On our side, we’re a very enthusiastic group. We have hundeds of people who are active on the website and other ways. Which I think goes to show you that while people will say that only 10 to 15 percent of Republicans support Obama, I think that 10 to 15 percent who do support him are very motivated and will show up on Election Day,” Martin said.
Check back to www.augustafreepress.com for more from our interviews with Brett Hayes and John Martin.